Bill Claudio remembers just how busy a tall ships weekend can get.
In 1995, the last time the Tall Ships Challenge made a weekend stop in Greenport, tables in his Claudio’s restaurant were filled each day. He estimated recently that his staff served more than 4,000 sit-down dinners that weekend.
So as this Memorial Day weekend approached, Mr. Claudio, like all business owners in the village, was making sure he’s ready for the crowds that are sure to fill the streets of Greenport.
“We’re just making sure we’re properly staffed,” he said.
From Mr. Claudio’s perspective, feeding the estimated 60,000 visitors to the village is the biggest challenge.
“When I was running the Maritime Festival, we were expecting something around 25,000 to 30,000 people and we’d usually get that number,” he said. “But when you [add up] all the seating in the area’s restaurants, you get something like 1,500 seats.”
With that in mind, he’s expanding his reach to customers and offering food and drinks at more than just his restaurant and clam bar.
“We’re setting up our wine tasting and additional food booths in the parking lot,” he said. The booths will serve pretzels, popcorn, cotton candy, hot dogs, beer, wine and soda.
Mr. Claudio said he’ll even have two big refrigerated trucks with extra food from suppliers at the event, standing ready should they need anything.
Greenport Harbor Brewing Company’s head brewer, DJ Swanson, said his company has been brewing extra beer for the festival. The brewery’s cold room is stocked and Mr. Swanson’s fingers are crossed for good weather.
“I know we’re expecting a big crowd,” Mr. Swanson said. “It’s exciting. There’s going to be a beer garden downtown selling our beer, so that’s great.”
He said many downtown businesses will be pouring Greenport beer from jockey boxes, coolers with attached taps for outside service.
Greenport Village Mayor David Nyce said festival attendees need to understand that drinking will only be permitted in restaurant areas, and open container laws will be enforced.
Both Mr. Nyce and Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said they see parking as the biggest challenge and they urge locals to car pool and use the LIRR, which will be running extra eastbound trains from Riverhead to help ease traffic problems.
“It might seem silly taking a train for that short of a distance, but it’s a really good alternative to driving to the event, because you don’t have to worry about parking,” Chief Flatley said.
Greenport High School is the sole designated off-site parking area for guests looking to park away from the street, according to Chief Flatley.
He said anywhere from 12 to 15 Southold Town police officers will be in Greenport during the event. State police will also lend a hand during the weekend.
Chief Flatley said the department will try to reroute eastbound Cross Sound Ferry traffic off Route 25 and encourages those people to use Route 48 and Chapel Lane. Any westbound ferry traffic will be encouraged to remain on Route 48 and use alternatives like Chapel, Peconic, Depot and Elijah’s lanes.
Mr. Nyce said the village feels well-prepared for such a big event this week.
“Oddly enough, yes, we are prepared,” he said. “We had a steering committee meeting last week going over final details and I think we’ve got everything in place. It’s not going to be perfect, it never is, but I think we’ve covered just about everything. We had our first volunteer meeting last Sunday and that’s very important because without these volunteers, this event would not have happened.”
Mayor Nyce said if the weather cooperates he expects the village could get as many as 16,000 to 20,000 visitors on any of the festival’s three days. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t do that much or more,” he said.
The weekend forecast calls for temperatures in the low 80s, with thunderstorms possible on Sunday.
The event kicks off with a 10 a.m. opening ceremony in Mitchell Park.
The ships Summerwind, Picton Castle, Pride of Baltimore II, Lynx, Unicorn, Roseway and Bounty will all be there, ready for festival-goers to take dockside tours of the ships’ epic innards.
Tickets are on sale at greenportvillage.com, but can also be purchased at the event’s three ticket booths between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Concierge services, sponsored by the Business Improvement District, are available in the village’s little red schoolhouse on Front Street and can direct attendees to any one of several events being held along Greenport’s waterfront, including dockside tours of the ships, street performances, airbrush tattoos, booths, musical acts and even a carnival in the evening.
All seven tall ships are participating in this year’s Atlantic Coast Tall Ships Challenge, sailing up the coast, touring ports and racing between each one. They started in Savannah, Ga., and will visit Charleston, S.C., before stopping at Greenport Harbor. The tour will then continue to Newport, R.I., and finish in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“This is going to be a fantastic event,” Mr. Nyce said. “It’s going to be over and I’m going to think, ‘Wow, what happened?’ ”